I publish original book reviews as well as book summaries with links to reviews I have published in various journals. Most reviews deal with my interests in psychology and religion-- especially Psychology and Christianity.
This 2006 documentary tells the story of two women with very
different “inheritances” from Amon Goeth, the Nazi commandant of the Plaszow
Concentration Camp in Poland. Goeth was known for his brutal murders of thousands
Monika Hertwig is the daughter of Amon Goeth and Ruth Kalder.
She gradually learned bits and pieces about her father’s horrific treatment of
the Jews. It would be a mistake to overlook the role of her mother who had an
affair with Goeth and a troubled relationship with Monika. The Spielberg film, Schindler’s List (1993), appears at a
pivotal moment in Monika’s efforts to come to grips with her family history and
her own identity.
Monika learns of a Jew, Helen Jonas-Rosenweig, who was a
kitchen slave in her father’s manor house. Helen survived the holocaust with
assistance from Oskar Schindler, whom she describes as a different kind of
Nazi. Helen is in the United States and responds to Monika’s request to meet. A
powerful emotional meeting makes the documentary a memorable experience unlike
other holocaust stories.
The focus of the film is on Monika. However, we also learn the
now familiar story of so many lost lives during the holocaust. In addition to
the death of family members, Goeth shot Helen’s boyfriend. She eventually
married a survivor but tragically lost him to suicide.
I recommend this film for its portrayal of real people trying
to live in the present and achieve some sort of reconciliation with their past.
The impact of one man’s evil on just these two people after some 60 years is incredible
without considering the thousands of other lives he destroyed.
I watched the film streamed from Amazon prime.
The film is 75 minutes and was released on DVD 6 January
After reading Woodward’s Fear,
I am wondering about the contribution of this book to its cover-stated
category, Political Science. Like behavioral
scientists who analyze interviews, the anonymity of the participants is
protected. Like readers of behavioral science interviews, we are dependent on
the author and his team for accuracy. Unfortunately, like readers of scientific
journals, we do not know the accuracy of the memories of those who provided the
interview content to Woodward. Neither do we know how well Woodward was able to
detect lies and biases in those who provided the content on which this book was
Woodward’s purpose is summarized at the end of the prologue.
The reality was that the United
States in 2017 was tethered to the words and actions of an emotionally
overwrought, mercurial, and unpredictable leader. Members of his staff had
joined to purposefully block some of what they believed were the president’s
most dangerous impulses. It was a nervous breakdown of the executive power of
the most powerful country in the world.
What follows is that story.
For the most part, Woodward takes us on a chronological tour
of the interactions among members of Trump’s White House team—sometimes with,
and sometimes without Trump present. It’s no surprise to learn that strongly
opinionated people—mostly men—would fight amongst themselves to persuade a
president to do their bidding or form alliances to defeat opponents. What is
surprising is the extent to which Trump’s team members go to interfere with his
decisions or control his unscripted public speeches and prolific tweets. Woodward makes a
repeated point that Trump demands loyalty. The demand for loyalty is nothing
new in leaders. The ways team members undermine Trump’s authority and display conflicting
loyalties makes for an interesting read. Accurate descriptions of human
behavior in political arenas certainly fall in the realm of political science.
But we are not treated to comparisons with other teams or a guiding theory that
might explain what’s unique about this team.
What is different about the Trump White House is Trump
himself. Trump's made a point. He’s not like Obama, either Bush, or either Clinton. Woodward’s
words in the prologue describe Trump’s personality traits as “emotionally
overwrought, mercurial, and unpredictable.” We do get various scenarios revealing
intense emotional displays and changes in mood; however, it seems staff close
to Trump have learned to predict his behavior to a degree that they act to
distract him, influence his language, control his schedule, and team with
others to prevent predictable actions. My point is, after hearing Trump’s
repeated rhetoric, seeing his tweets, and reading this book, Trump’s actions
seem to take on a degree of predictability. Criticize Trump and you will get a
torrent of personalized criticism in return, display disloyalty and you will be
fired. Take a position opposed to Trump and your intelligence or strength will
be challenged in the language coarse men use everywhere.
On the final page, Woodward tells the story of Dowd’s (Trump’s
lawyer) resignation. We learn Dowd’s view of Trump’s tragic flaw. And we are left to wonder what the storyteller
believes about his president.
But in the man and his presidency
Dowd had seen the tragic flaw. In the political back-and-forth, the evasions,
the denials, the tweeting, the obscuring, crying “Fake news,” the indignation,
Trump had one overriding problem that Dowd knew but could not bring himself to
say to the president: “You’re a fucking liar.” (page 357)
As with any careful analysis, the author has provided
copious notes with the noteworthy absence of anonymity for some primary
sources. In the end, we are left with an experienced reporter’s view of a president
fighting battles on many fronts—his advisors, Congress, the mainstream media, attorneys,
and foreign leaders. We don't know who will win. We can be sure that along the way, different opponents will declare themselves the winner. Meanwhile, American voters are left to battle for semi-control over who gets in the White House in 2020. Perhaps fear is the best lead title word for the book.
But other emotions come to mind.
Woodward, B. (2018). Fear:
Trump in the White House. New York: Simon & Schuster.
The Moral Teaching of Paul is one of the books I cited in A House Divided.This third edition comes some 30 years after the first edition and aims to expand our understanding of the sociocultural context of Paul's Ministry related to contemporary moral issues.
Before discussing the moral topics, Furnish reminds readers in Chapter 1 about Paul's authorship, which at this point appears firm for Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galations, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Disputed works include Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy. The disputed works have been variusly dated in a range from the 70s to the early second century. The importance of identifying Paul's works is a matter of emphasis thus, Furnish focuses attention on the undisputed texts to understand Paul's moral theology.
Furnish advises readers of the problem with a Sacred Cow view of the biblical texts. Such a view leaves readers bound to Paul's words because they are really the words of God given to all people for all time. Furnish argues that the biblical authors addressed situations in their sociohistorical context. Furnish realizes he must deal with those who quote 2 Timothy 3: 16-17. He makes the point, as others have, that the verse about inspired scripture probably referred to the Jewish texts since there was no New Testament at the time Paul wrote. The other point rests on an understanding of the concept, inspiration. As is commonly known, some view inspiration as the very words of God but others interpret the term in various ways (see Chapter 1 for more details).
Following the groundwork in Chapter 1, Furnish begins to address the moral topics that capture our attention. Chapter 2 deals with Sex, Marriage, and Divorce. There is no surprise to see Paul's view of sex as limited to the marriage relationship. Furnish offers background points about marriage during the Roman period. The purpose of marriage was to establish a housefhold where children could be raised and elderly parents receive care. Approved marriages were important to the transfer of property to future generations. Girls married in the age range of 12 to 15 and men married by age 25. Furnish notes Paul's reason for marriage as "good" to meet sexual needs. Paul avoids the reason others have given of marrying to procreate (Gen 1:28).
Divorce was easy to obtain during Roman times, according to Furnish. Adultery was the usual cause of a divorce. Furnish notes Jesus' restrictive stance on divorce and guides readers into a consideration of other reasons beyond infidelity by considering circumstances as does Paul in some of his reasoning.
Chapter 3 is titled, "Homosexuality?" Furnish makes the point early on that there were no ancient words for homosexuality in the biblical languages. Furnish departs from a discussion of Paul's works to provide context from the Jewish laws about same-sex sex. He then proceeds to a discussion of Jewish and Roman cultures in the first century. For Jews, same-sex sex was unnatural and unlawful. He refers to Greek culture and the presence of same-sex relationships. Some practices by people of the time involving sex with boys were condemned by other writers and Furnish thinks these condemned practices may be what Paul had in mind. He offers quotes from ancient extrabiblical texts to make his point about the condemnaiton of exploitation. Furnish closes the chapter by addressing current concerns about same-sex unions. He reminds readers of the limits of what the biblical texts say and do not say when it comes to contemporary notions of sexual orientation and relationships.
In Chapter 4, Furnish addresses Paul's view of "Women in the Church." As in previous chapters, Furnish provides the sociohistorical context applicable to the texts that appear to limit the role of women in ministry. He includes quotes depicting the inferiority of a woman's human nature e.g., seeing women as easily deceived and having poor reasoning powers. Next, Furnish examines the sometimes confusing array of teachings from Paul's letters. On the one hand, there are texts restricting what women can do but on the other hand, there are texts documenting the important role of women in early church ministries--including Paul's work.
The final chapter (5) addresses the moral challenge of "The Church in the World." We see that Paul expects Christians to live as citizens, which suggests an active role in social life. We also see guidance on how to behave; that is, Paul refers to such virtues as love, gentleness, kindness, and so on. Furnish makes a point that Christians are called to honorable conduct without connecting good works to the conversion of unbelievers to Christianity.
Furnish's analysis of Paul's teachings in the context of Jewish and Roman cultures provides a useful backdrop to consider contemporary interpretations of several hot-button issues that continue to divide contemporary Christians. Thus, Furnish's book remains relevant as Christians sincerely seek to appreciate what the Apostle Paul wrote, the traditions of the church, and how one ought to think about contemporary moral issues. The book will likely not be helpful to those who adhere to an interpretation of Pauline texts that does not permit a nuanced view based on cultural contexts and understanding old words and phrases in the ancient languages of scripture. The Moral Teaching of Paul will likely be useful for those in a variety of Christian ministries and students in Christian colleges and seminaries.
Furnish, V. P. (2009). The Moral Teaching of Paul: Selected Issues, 3rd Ed. Nashville: Abingdon.
Sutton, G. W. (2016). A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick.
My mother was sixty-five when she retired. Each month she faithfully
wrote a check for $20.00 to Rev. Televangelist whom she loved to watch on her
aging blond console TV. She had his special version red leather, red letter
edition, of the Holy Bible beside her favorite 1970s orangey fabric chair. Each
month she received his newsletter, which she read to learn of God’s blessing on
his ministries. She and many others were sending those showers of blessing on
him and all who dwelt beneath the roof of his fabulous mansion. After moving to
Rev. Televangelist’s community of followers, the scandalous news brought the
house down. And she was manifestly depressed.
My encounters with psychopaths began during the early years
of my clinical practice. I learned the most during supervision by clinical forensic
psychologist, Julianne Lockwood, professor of psychology at the University of
New Mexico. Since then I read a lot of books, attended many seminars, and met a
lot of folks with psychopathic traits. And I empathized with many victims—of
all ages. Psychopathic traits enable leaders to suceed when they harness select characteristics useful in various professions such as law and medicine as well as careers in business, the military, and religion.
Kevin Dutton is a psychological scientist. He provides
readers with an insider’s look at the personality traits that enable those we
call psychopaths to wreak such havoc in other people’s lives. Sometimes we may
be confused when we attempt to size-up a leader who seems a bit too ruthless.
Dutton gives us examples of the variation between valued leadership traits and
those of the psychopath:
As psychologists, we examine behavioral models that often
describe patterns of behavior in a range of values. Sometimes a modest range of
select behavior patterns can be of high value in certain circumstances. For
example, when under threat, we need leaders who are able to manage a great deal
of stress without the interference of emotions that would prevent them from
making life and death decisions. Those same leaders might look quite calloused
and insensitive in another situation.
As a society, we can only tolerate such
leaders when we are convinced they accept authority and demonstrate loyalty and
a strong inclination to avoid harming those in the group they lead. Leaders can
lead us astray. Dutton identifies seven core traits, which he artfully calls
the Seven Deadly Wins—here’s the list:
If you have any interest in the psychology of psychopathy, I
recommend the book as a good introduction. Dutton is a good writer and he makes
sense of several interesting studies. You can find my academic review as a free
Sutton, G. W. (2014). [Review of the book
The Wisdom of psychopaths: What saints,
spies, and serial killers can teach us about success by Kevin Dutton]. Journal of Christianity and Psychology, 35, 281-282. Also published in Vol 33,
265-266. Accepted June 2013 ResearchGate
Link Academia Link
I received Pearce’s book from the Templeton Press for the
purposes of review. I submitted the review manuscript in 2016 to the Journal of Psychology and Theology,
which was then reviewed and subsequently accepted for publication, March 1,
2017. I will provide links to the academic review below.
Michelle Pearce, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and assistant
professor at the University of Maryland. Her book provides a useful summary of
cognitive-behavioral therapy and shows how it may be adapted to help Christian
clients draw upon Bible practices and teachings to cope with depression.
I graduated from a school (University of Missouri-Columbia) where
cognitive behavioral psychotherapy was the mainstay of treatment. But, like
others from my era, we found our own way when it came to helping religious and
spiritual clients with mental health concerns, including depression. Experienced
clinicians will not find much that is new in the book, but they will find an
organized set of strategies and links to recent research that can help ensure a
best practices approach.
The book will be most useful to students in counseling
programs as a supplement to various courses and supervised experiences focused
on treating people with depression. I think the book can be helpful to pastors
as well as they will no doubt encounter many people in their congregations who
struggle with some form of depression.
I note a few suggestions for an improvement in my review.
These are not concerns that would limit the value of the book, but rather ideas
for a future edition. Here’s a quote from my published review:
One, Pearce acknowledges the
forgiveness work of Christian scholars like Worthington and Enright but does
not offer specific guidance as do Enright and Fitzgibbons (2015) in their
chapter devoted to forgiveness therapy for depressed clients. Two, Pearce
identifies the term spiritual struggles
in the chapter about suffering (6) but does not include the extensive research
by Exline and her colleagues (e.g., Exline & Rose, 2013), which has helped
clarify many of the distressing beliefs held by Christians when they experience
such struggles. And three, although she briefly mentions hope in the
conclusion, the topic deserves a greater role in the treatment of depression
especially given its critical role in psychotherapy and its prominence in Christian
theology (e.g., Edwards & Jovanovski, 2016).
is a plot-driven biography of William Tyndale (1494-1536) and his ruthless
antagonist, Thomas More. Character development is lacking due to the limited reliable
information about Tyndale’s interactions with others. This is no fault of
Moynahan because once Tyndale became known as an evangelical, aka heretic, he fled
England to hide in Germany and the Netherlands to achieve his calling—the
translation of the Bible into the vulgar tongue of English.
Even for readers who don’t know much about history, the book’s
subtitle reveals the outcome—Tyndale was a martyr. What Moynahan treats us to
is the life and death struggle between Tyndale and More, staged against
political and religious battles for control of the Bible, money, and the lives
of men and women.
Early on we get a small glimpse of Tyndale’s early years. We
learn he went to both Oxford and Cambridge. He then set upon his life’s goal of
completing an English translation of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into
English. Such a translation was forbidden by the ruling Roman Catholic Church
whose English warrior was none other than the famous Thomas More (1478-1535).
In 1524, Tyndale left England for Germany and completed his English translation
of the New Testament in 1525. The book became a bestseller despite its illegal
status in England.
As Tyndale was working on the Old Testament, another battle took
place between King Henry VIII and the Pope. As you may know, Henry was in lust
with Anne Boleyn and eager to divorce his first wife, Catherine, who had given
birth to Mary, but no male heir. The pope’s refusal to grant the divorce led to
Henry’s 1534 break with Rome and the establishment of the Church of England,
which granted the divorce. The biblical battle runs from the bedroom to the
continent as Queen Anne Boleyn kept a Tyndale New Testament at her bedside and
was occasionally able to assist reform minded Englishmen until she fell victim
to Henry’s penchant for other women.
As the political-religious battle waged between pope and
king, More was rooting out heretics and sending them flaming into eternity.
Following More’s flameout, Tyndale was eventually captured when he was betrayed
by Henry Phillips. During his 500-day imprisonment, Tyndale responded at length
to inquiries about his beliefs. In the end, he was strangled and burned at a
stake 6 October, 1536.
Only three years after his death, Tyndale’s work provided a
substantial basis for Myles Coverdale’s Great
Bible (1539) and later, the King James or Authorised version of 1611. More’s
legacy includes canonization by Pope Pius XI in 1935 and fame associated with Utopia.
Moynahan is a master of the art of creative nonfiction as he moves the story with lively conflicts between various religious and political characters. He illustrates the main points of disagreement between the reformers and the traditional church with quotes from Tyndale's original translation on such matters as transsubstantiation, priests vs. elders, and love vs. charity. Doctrines hang on the difference in meaning of a word or two. But more importantly, lives are at stake. For Tyndale, Christians do not eat the body of Christ during the Eucharist, they do not need a priest for confession, and 1 Corinthians 13 is about love--not charity and the association of charity with donations to the church. There's more of course--the famous Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith crops up in more than one battle.
Moynahan keep us close to the action by pointing to familiar landmarks in the main cities of London and Antwerp but he also keeps us close to the era by judicious quotes from the main characters presented in early modern English.
Moynahan, B. (2002).
God’s bestseller: William Tyndale, Thomas
More, and the Writing of the English Bible—A Story of Martyrdom and Betrayal.
New York: St. Martins.
Isenberg states her purpose on page 2. “…by reevaluating the
American historical experience in class terms, I expose what is too often
ignored about American identity.” She adds a second aim. “I also want to make
it possible to better appreciate the gnawing contradictions still present in
modern American society.” Her major theme appears to be a persistent lack of
equality since the early English settlements gained a foothold in America: “How
does a culture that prizes equality of opportunity explain, or indeed
accommodate, its persistently marginalized people?”
She encourages Americans to “recognize the existence of our
underclass.” And offers us a question to answer: “The puzzle of how white trash
embodied this tension is one of the key questions the book presumes to answer.”
As we might expect of from a history professor (LSU),
Isenberg begins at the beginning—that is, she offers us an English context for
the people selected to inhabit the early settlements in America. In doing so,
she reminds us that a variety of whites came along with the storied religious Pilgrims
and Puritans as well as the Virginia Gentlemen. She does not ignore slavery and
the increasingly well-known horrors of African Americans. Rather, she focuses our
attention on the laws and attitudes that excluded a white underclass from
enjoying the opportunities of the wealthy rulers who governed the inhabitants
of the eastern seaboard.
Twelve chapters, with catchy titles and colorful language
aimed at classifying the poor whites, expose the uncharitable manner in which
the elite used their power to keep a certain group of white people within
limited boundaries. We discover American leaders identified common
characteristics of laziness, low ambition, and a general uncleanness of people
variously labeled rubbish, poor white trash, clay-eaters, and mudsills.
Often, quoted leaders use breeding analogies to refer to the
quality of human stock. Blood lines and the importance of good parents are
linked as explanations for the status of the poor and their characteristics
that serve as missing rungs on the proverbial ladder of success. When the
theory of eugenics arrives in the US, we see many leaders embracing the beliefs
like converts to a tent revival.
From time to time we learn of plans to improve the lot of
poor whites. There are efforts to give ambitious people a parcel of land, which
often required the removal of Native Americans. As we move into the 1900s, we
learn of the political battles over such efforts as FDR’s programs during the
Great Depression when there was visible evidence of downward mobility and
later, Johnson’s Great Society. Helpfully, Isenberg points out the uselessness
of the occasional celebrations of poor folks who make it. Sometimes she points
out the false claims of the rags to riches stories. At other times, she reminds
us that such celebratory news stories are rare events and not typical of the
vast underclass that remain at a considerable distance from the halls of wealth
By the time I reached the end of the book, I felt overwhelmed
by the stories used to support her thesis. Indeed, America has an underclass.
Although some of the stories are new to me, I was familiar with others from
various sources such as PBS documentaries, textbooks on history and sociology,
and living amongst the poor and middle class for most of my early life.
Nations have myths so it is not surprising to learn that
many of the American myths were quite detached from reality. What is
interesting is the degree to which the myths and belief systems create such an
effective class structure.
I am no historian but I like to think of other possibilities
to account for a set of findings. Isenberg has focused on the underclass in the
early American colonies and the persistence of the poor whites in the American
South. Having lived in New Mexico for some years, and finding many poor who
were nether white nor of British heritage, it seems her thesis needs to be
broadened to consider the influence of the Spanish who ruled vast swaths of
what is now the United States. And why not consider the influence of French
culture on mid-America—especially since the French held sway where the author
lives and works in Baton Rouge?
Another factor that seems to be missing is a careful
analysis of the role religion plays in maintaining or limiting the status of
poor whites. After all, regardless of which European country the ancestors of
America’s whites called home, most Americans have identified with some brand of
Christianity. From time to time we hear advice to respect authority in church
and in society. Isn’t religion and important factor in the status of America’s class
Isenberg’s attacks on breeding myths, blood, and eugenics
are important. Such ideas rule even amongst those with graduate degrees in
biology and the behavioral sciences. Nevertheless, she appears too dismissive
of biological factors in accounting for the factors that make life a
significant challenge to acquire and education or job skills that could become
the path out of poverty.
Finally, I am disappointed in her lack of consistent
comparisons across the historical time periods. Sometimes we are treated to
quotes from influential political leaders, including the founding fathers. At other
times she delves into the details of a novel or a play. What’s missing is some
sort of weighting of the contribution of different sources to an understanding
of why we continue to have an underclass.
So far, I am fortunate to have experienced the traditional
American Dream. Our first home in America was indeed a filthy, insect infested,
block rental house. Both of my parents left school at age 14, which was not uncommon
amongst their peers, but considered a factor in poverty discussions. We were fortunate to have help from neighbors--a few white families and one black
family--community makes a difference. And my father was healthy enough to work loading concrete blocks on trucks--health is worth a lot.
When we needed more money, my mother was fortunate to find employment in retail
shops or cleaning homes. In addition to the early start, I am now aware that I
benefitted from white male privilege. But I recognize, that there are many
white Americans who remain poor. And there are many reasons for their ongoing
I suggest the book will be useful to those who are unaware
of the attitudes of America’s elite toward the poor and the history of false
beliefs about why some people fail to achieve a modicum of independence from
reliance on government support and help from area charities. Readers will not
find a broad consideration of the causes of poverty or effective ways to raise
their standard of living.